cooking dinner

Cooking Dinner when the Cupboards Are Bare

(Guys, really sorry for not adding images to this post, I’ll do it later)

We’ve all been through it:

it’s the day before payday, and there are only random staples spotting cupboards – No “real” food in sight.

Well, surprisingly your dinner masterpieces may be awaiting you in these shadowy recesses. I will be your guide on the quest of “What’s for Dinner?” and share past meals that my family has concocted during times like these.

First things first, look in your refrigerator and check what meats you have remaining.

I’ll work through the process with you (tomorrow is payday). If you have chicken breasts, a bag of chicken nuggets, or a pot roast you can make one of the recipes below!

Obviously, if you are vegetarian or vegan skip this step. You can make the same great dishes meat free!

Now, look for your staples: rice, pasta, etc. You may find some type of pasta.

Macaroni and Cheese even work! Just use the pasta and save the cheese packet for a later concoction.

Next look for sauces, these can include spaghetti sauce, ‘Cream of’ soups, wines, vinegar, Heinz, salsa, salad dressing.

Dig deep you’ll find soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, left-over gravy, Honey-Dijon mustard, beer, and mayonnaise.

Now granted you do not want to combine all of these into one sauce but any one of these or a combination can be mouth-watering.

Finally, find all your vegetables.

Canned, dried, frozen, fresh, it doesn’t matter, take a mental note of all of them. Green beans, corn, peas, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, a bag of carrots or a bag of potatoes will keep you on the right track.

Now with the things I have listed above, there are a few plain old boring meals you could make. Not that I am knocking traditional meals, but it is so much more fun to answer the call of “Mom! There’s nothing to eat,” with a dish that looks and tastes like it came from a restaurant.

Now all you have to figure out is what goes together! Chicken coated with Honey-Dijon mustard, and grilled with a side of ranch baked potatoes; Heinz&Ranch Dressing Pot Roast; Pasta a la Pesto Chicken Nuggets; the possibilities are endless!

The main key here is having an idea of what goes together yet not abiding by rules.

Rules to disregard: Red wine vinegar only goes with red meats, salad dressing is only for salads, spaghetti sauce only goes with spaghetti noodles, dips are only for chips, mayo and mustard are only for sandwiches, corn and green beans don’t belong in Italian foods, waffles and pancakes cannot be substituted for bread, and spaghetti sauce has to be red.

One rule to abide by unless you know what you are doing or are following a recipe is do not mix meats! But the most important one is having fun with it!

The first recipe I am going to share uses chicken breasts, but pork chops, steaks or even no meat at all can be substituted.

Let’s go with something Italian.

Begin by coating the bottom of a cold frying pan with a quarter-inch layer of red wine vinegar, a quarter-cup Italian dressing, Italian seasonings, season salt, pepper, onions, and any type of garlic you can find (fresh is best, but powder works too).

Now heat the pan on high heat. Once it starts bubbling set your meat in to sear. After 1-2 minutes turn meat over, place the lid on the pan, and turn heat down to a medium simmer for approximately 20 minutes.

While that’s cooking decide what else you want to go with your new masterpiece. Start the water to boil for the pasta now while pulling out the olives, mushrooms, tomatoes and spaghetti sauce. Once the water is boiling pour the bag of pasta in, then pull the chicken out of the frying pan.

Pour the spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives into the frying pan and stir well you may need to add some more red wine vinegar if it dried up. To the side cut the chicken breast into cubes then place back in the sauce. Strain the macaroni once it is done.

There are two ways to go about serving this dish and it is all personal preference. Dish up the noodles then pour the sauce on top like many do with spaghetti, or combine it all in one pan and stir until well mixed.

NOTE: If you are vegetarian or vegan follow all the same directions excluding the meat.

I have made this dish before when we were out of meat and it was still quite delicious. Just be sure to start with the cold pan, and heat up the seasonings and vinegar. Then once they are bubbling you jump straight to adding the spaghetti sauce, etc.

The longer the seasonings can simmer alone in the pan the better the finished sauce is.

At the beginning of this I promised you a couple of extra recipes so here they are only using items mentioned at the beginning of the article.

While you read these please keep in mind that none of these items are mandatory, and almost anything can be substituted with something else. Be Creative and Have Fun!

Honey-Dijon Chicken Breasts with Ranch Baked Potatoes


  • Chicken Breasts (Pork Chops, Steaks, and Lamb Chops can be used also)
  • Honey-Dijon mustard
  • Potatoes
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Salt amp; Pepper
  • Optional: Butter, Sour Cream, Chives, Breadcrumbs

Cut potatoes into fourths. Set on a square of tin foil. Pour ranch dressing (optional: sour cream, chives, butter, season salt, pepper, seasonings) onto the potato. Loosely wrap in tin foil making sure edges are sealed.

Place potatoes on the grill

Smother meat in Dijon mustard (optional: sprinkle or roll in breadcrumbs)

Place on grill. In 10-20 minutes you should have a very tasty meal prepared.

Hein&Ranch Pot Roast

It is exactly what it sounds like. Find a plain recipe for a pot roast that calls for the roast carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. Pour a bunch of Heinz 57速 and Ranch Dressing or Chip Dip into the pot and cook away.

Pasta a la Pesto Chicken Nuggets (I have no idea if I said this right – I just thought it sounded neat)


  • 1 bag frozen chicken nuggets (approx. 3-5 pieces per person)
  • 1 small jar pesto
  • Garlic
  • Spaghetti noodles
  • Italian seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • Olives

Set a pan of water to boil with a small amount of olive oil and Italian seasonings.

Stir-fry breaded chicken nuggets in frying pan until soft enough to cut. Cut all chicken nuggets into small squares (cube), place back in frying pan. Add a small amount of olive oil, pesto, garlic, Italian seasonings, and olives.

Strain noodles. Stir together in one pan, or serve like spaghetti.

I hope this article helps you in your journey from payday to payday during these tough times. Send me your favorite frugal recipes, please!